Tag Archives: Khasi hills

Experiencing the warmth of Khasi hospitality in the wettest place on earth- Cherrapunjee

I could not express better than these lines picked up from a website, “If the Raindrops elevate your mood, clouds stir your senses and rainbow brings out childlike pleasure in you, then don’t hold yourself back. We are taking you to the abode of clouds-Meghalaya; where rain weaves a magical spell, spellbinding beauty haunts your senses and you witness nature at its best. Witness the monsoon magic, majestic waterfalls, live root bridges and more…” and one can go to no better place than Sohra fondly called Cherrapunjee to experience all of that Meghalaya has to offer in a small place.

Like most tourists, we started our day early from Shillong via Smit. To differ from the rest, we had a self-drive car at our disposal so that we had the liberty to stop whenever and wherever we wanted. The drive route was mostly untouched and its rustic charm kept us excited all through as this route is less treaden by the tourists. Pine plantations, lesser explored waterfalls nestled away from the main road, well groomed vegetable farms, hay shacks were a common thing for us while we had stopped atleast 100 times for photos. As we approached Sohra, we stopped at several view points, Wahkabah waterfall being one among them.

p1130875
A reservoir enroute to Cherrapunjee

India’s longest cave and the most numbers of limestone caves in one place happens to be in Meghalaya and hence Meghalaya is a haven for cave explorers. Our first stop at Sohra was at the Arwah or Lumshynna caves. Relatively smaller compared to the other caves in the viscinity, but is tucked away in a gorgeous location overlooking the deep valley with the Nongsthiang waterfalls. After a brief visit, we headed towards our next stop- Plunging down from a height of over 1100 feet, Nohkalikai is the highest waterfall in India. We trekked down the steps and a little beyond into the bushes and enjoyed the rare views of the waterfall away from the reaches of normal tourist.

dsc02827
The Nohkalikai falls

There is an option to camp at the Eco park, over the seven sister / Nongsthiang falls. But we decided against it as the place is filled with backpackers and would’ve been too clumsy for us who wanted a peaceful place away from the crowd. In search of a nice place to pitch our tents, we took help of one of our Khasi friend, but the search ended up more like an exploration of Sohra with untouched places and sunset views. This exploration took us to remote places like banks of a small river, a cliff off a small hillock, plains overlooking massive gorges, cement factory backyards among other places. Pitching a tent in Sohra requires prior permission from 4 different authorities- the land owner, the Siam of the village, the local government body and the police. With very little time left in hand and insufficient preparation for the camping, we ended up staying with a Khasi family in a local homestay located amid a serene location. The stay however was the highlight of our day- the warm hospitality of the Khasis will never let one regret their choice of stay. The host accompanied us for dinner and for a drink while we were discussing everything from Khasi culture, ceremonies, politics, sports, tourism et all under the sky- the clear Night’s sky. With no pollution in the atmosphere, my friend helped me to identify several constellations from the place that was brilliant for star gazing. It was an unforgettable night for us with the Khasi family.

p1130943
The village settlements around our homestay

Next day, we drove to places around Cherrapunjee including the villages of Tyrna, Nongriat, Mawsmai cave/Krem Phyllut, Laitsynkew to explore the living root bridges which was an activity from dawn to dusk! We got in touch with a local guide Paradise who then arranged for our camping in the Nohkalikai village for the night. It was yet another wonderful night amid the Khasis while we enjoyed Khasi music, the enriching conversation with Paradise and his friends on their customs, religious practices, respect for people, nature’s love- Phewwww it was a long night under the starry sky with only my friends, Paradise’s friends, myself and the campfire! Suddenly, while the last bit of the firewood was being lit and just before the night broke into dawn, the skies of Meghalaya had shown their power.. It poured cats n dogs for the rest of the night with thunder storm and lightning. We sheltered ourselves inside our tents while I continued to shiver with cold.

Momentous 100%
One of the suspension bridges on the way to Dianthlen falls

At dawn’s break, the skies had seemed to have mellowed down and we stepped out of our tents only to be awed by the beautiful sun rising over India’s highest waterfall! Yeah, Meghalaya has been wonderful to us all this while and this was another new day in this land of clouds. While we had planned a short trek across the Dianthlen falls, the rain gods continued to lash through the day. And what’s the whole point if one doesn’t experience the rains in the wettest part of the world- Cherrapunjee that is..? We walked in the places around Dianthlen falls and were drenched till the bone and enjoyed the rains for some wild reason…. It was already noon and we couldn’t cover the other few places as planned in Cherrapunjee because of the poor visibility due to heavy rains. Had there been some more time in daylight, I would’ve loved to explore the Sohra market, Ramakrishna mission, Mawkdok valley, Thangkharang park, Moktrop rock in the remaining half a day’s time. Anyway, owing to any possibility in improvement in the weather conditions, we decided to drive to our next destination- the Jaintia hills district.

Shine 100%
The rain fed roads of Cherrapunjee

While the warmth of the very hospitable Khasis has still left me in awe and amusement, I’d like to end this note here with these lines published in Karavan, Stokholm, Sweden:
“Even then, goodbye dear Cherra, and your rain goodbye.
For my life is yonder, though my love is here.”

A walk in God’s own garden- Mawlynnong

Gandhiji once said, “The Soul of India is in its villages”. Sometimes, It is not about the place.. It is about the people that brings you closer.. And that’s precisely my take on this little quaint village called Mawlynnong.. After a refreshing drive through some breathtaking views and best roads of India, we had alighted at ‘God’s Own garden’ nestled deep in the East Khasi hills of Meghalaya. Although it is being largely promoted by the Meghalaya Tourism Department(MTD) as Asia’s cleanest village after being awarded so by the ‘Discover India Magazine’ in 2003, I feel it holds a different charm in it with the warmest people I have met so far!

Tourists flock to this place in large numbers just because they have heard about it in MTD handouts. These senseless creatures litter the place extensively with chocolate wrappers, chips sachets etc. all strewn around this supposedly cleanest village they have come to see.. But, the humble villagers watch on with a smile and pick up these wastes themselves and put them in the cane trash bins places visibly infront of every household in the village, thus keeping up to its reputation of being clean!

I walked around the laid back lanes of the village in exploring the old church, the floating stone and the water shed maintained by the villagers. The flowers lining the fences of each household added myriad hues to the green village and grey of the cloudy sky.. I climbed up the skywalk laid up with bamboo and cane that threw up a nice view overlooking the plains of Bangladesh.

Finally, I settled down at a locally run restaurant for a cup of chai to beat the chills of the cloudy weather. I caught up on a conversation with a pretty Khasi lady draped in her Asiangyake (the traditional dress of the Khasi women also called Dhara). While she helped me to memorise a few words in her dialect, I learnt about the Khasi culture and customs. Being a matrilineal society, women are respected and are given the preference to choose her husband-to-be. It is considered a bad omen, if a man proposes to a woman. While she was attending to other customers at the restaurant, I called out for ‘Oikong’ (Khasi alternative for addressing ‘Didi’ in other parts of northern India) to help me with some Soh (Khasi for fruit). “Ohhhh” A voice filled with humility came in response… She then sat down with me and prepared a plate of pineapple seasoned with flakes of the ‘Bhut Jholokias’ and salt. It was one of the best snack I had in years!

I then walked down to the playground where the kids were playing. They seemed excited to meet me, talk in English and pose for a few candid photos. It was a warm and a very pleasant evening for me… There is nothing in particular in this village to see or do.. Yet, the nomad in me strongly intended to stay there for an extra day. There are homestays that are available where the warmth of the Khasi hospitality can be experienced.

I would recommend an early morning walk to Riwai village that helps you avoid the chaotic tourists who flock in later during the day. At a distance of about 1km before Mawlynnong, is the most easily accessible living root bridge and hence, a lot of visitors throng down. So after a nice walk, savouring a nice Khasi breakfast and lemon tea, it was time to pack bags to head out to my next destination- Dawki: the last village of Meghalaya on the Indian border!

Request to tourists:
Please remember that the sole reason that you are at Mawlynnong is to see how ‘Asia’s cleanest village’ looks like. How on earth will you ever feel like littering such a place? Do you want to see if you can take off the ‘Cleanest’ tag from the place? Or do you want to just prove that you are only an uncultured educated rich person who could afford enough money to tour the North-east India? Ask yourself… Be sensible and responsible!

A day out at the Khasi cultural centre- Smit

There are public buses from Shillong to Smit, but one needs to hitch a ride further to Laitlum. Since it was my first day in the state, I did not want to experiment. I hired a taxi from Police bazaar to Laitlum after a good bargain. After arriving from the metropolis with all the madness of traffic, pollution and work tension cluttering my mind- this drive was refreshing. I stopped the car at almost every kilometer to capture the beauty of the place with my not-so-good camera. The bamboo trees and terrace lands with potato farms all yet added charm to the otherwise beautiful scenery. To add to the pleasure of the drive, I was having a good conversation with the driver and there were atleast 50 passengers hopping on and off at every stretch and all getting excited about meeting a foreigner (Yeah… That’s what they called me!).

Smit is an old rustic town and the cultural centre of the East Khasi hills. A road flanked with well groomed pine trees lead to the Raja’s palace. The Raja or the head of the clan is called ‘Siam’ and he lives in the same premises. However, the wooden palace is used only on special occasions- those like Nongkrem festival etc. where there will be tribal congregations. This typical Khasi styled wooden house is said to have been constructed with zero iron nails and only wood for all joints. Although I met the Siam, he did not seem to be a photo friendly person when I seeked permission to photograph his little children. There isn’t much in this town apart from this house.

p1130680
The Siam’s house at Smit

After a small stopover, we drove to Laitlum valley- about 5kms further from Smit. It was an offbeat drive through the rarest stretches of countryside. We passed by a lot of school kids who were on their way to school. Few were happy waving at me while a few were busy pranking at their pals as they walked. It was a flashback of typical childhood days in a rural setup. There were a couple of school teachers in my backseat, chatting happily with me and patiently waiting in the car while I would get down to take photos. Overall, it was a very pleasant drive until we reached the Laitlum gate. While the driver wanted to sit back in the car, he asked me to enjoy the view and return.

I was the only person amid the green scintillating valley until I walked down and saw 2 boys cleaning the pristine place. They had already parked aside 4-5 sacks full of waste. When I spoke to them, they told me that they came here every morning before leaving for school to pick up plastics left behind by the previous day’s tourists. While it was a heartfelt respect for these boys for doing their bit to save earth without having any expectations of monetary gain, it was a subtle slap on my face because I too represented the tourists who unmindfully damage the same earth in the name of enjoyment.

P1130730.JPG
The Laitlum valley

I walked down to the cliff and stood in amazement at the beauty that the place beheld. While I was standing on the brink on a large flat rock, it felt like I was the only person in the whole wide beautiful world. The gentle winds kissed my cheeks and the chirping bird was a welcome guest. There were several waterfalls flowing down the valley gracefully at a distance… Then there were a few villagers who appeared to be popping out of the deep valley beneath. They seemed to be friendly and told me that their village lied down there and they had to climb up each time to meet their basic life requirements, trade their farm products etc. There is a cable car made of bamboo which will be dropped down and pulled up for old people and goods but it is by foot most of the time. I grew curious and my feet dragged me down the stones that were laid on the path to the village. The beauty of the 360 degree greenery and the fresh air had already cleansed my mind off half my worries and tension by the time I clocked the distance to the village. There is a small stream, a church and a few huts in this little fairy tale village nestled deep down the valley. And the villagers I met on my way enriched me with the simplicity and content of life. After a good walk down the beautiful valley of Mawkeynrew, my tummy had started to call out for me. I savoured the plantains offered to me by the villagers and unwillingly decided to climb back.

p1130853
The bamboo cable car and the village below

Once I reached the top, I finally sat down at a small hut like stall that had opened by the time at the valley gate. Her little son helped me with a cup of lemon tea in English before running to school. The lady there could not understand anything other than Khasi language and I didn’t know that. In spite of the language barrier, we both became friends who communicated with hand signs. She cooked maggi noodles and Jadoh with chicken curry for breakfast while I was eagerly waiting for my first Khasi meal. Jadoh is a traditional Khasi meal where rice is cooked with chicken blood instead of water. It was one of the most relishing and sumptuous maggi noodles I have ever had..! What made the meal so special was not that I found it in a No-man’s land or at an extremely low price. It was something that I would travel back again all the way for the humility and dollops of warmth the meal was served with.

She cut a pomello fruit and mixed it with chilly powder and packed it for my road.. With a heart full of gratitude, I bid goodbye to this Khasi friend of mine!

Kublei Shiboon,
Hitha.